History sucks sometimes, it really does. Perhaps I should be castigating the concept of time instead, as the crux of what’s upset me enough to write this piece took place forty-five years ago, but that it took all that time for us to be able to put the pieces together. There are echoes within this story that carry forward through 1968 to today. It involves war, politics, and clandestine, previously classified material. And it’s just one more shocking piece of evidence in the case against America’s war mongering ways post World War II.
The 1968 presidential election saw Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, lose to this guy called Richard Nixon — have you heard of him? But as the BBC reported, tapes from the LBJ library have shed a whole new light on that year’s election and on a cynical, politically motivated act perpetrated by Nixon that some would call dirty pool, and others would call just outright treason. As it turns out, LBJ nearly entered the 1968 election after having said he would not run for re-election. He apparently was all set to helicopter into the Chicago Hilton and announce his candidacy, but didn’t after the Secret Service told him that they couldn’t guarantee his safety.
The bigger story though is that same year President Johnson had direct evidence that Richard Nixon had tampered with the peace negotiations being brokered at the time between South and North Vietnam. Apparently, the North Vietnamese were set to make major concessions to the Johnson administration, in return for Johnson ceasing all bombing in North Vietnam. But Dick Nixon couldn’t have a lame duck president negotiating an end to the Vietnam War before he got into the White House to take credit for it, so he helped sabotage the peace talks.
Nixon had one of his campaign advisers act as the go-between for South Vietnam and the Nixon campaign. Nixon’s staffer told the South Vietnamese ambassador to refuse any more talks with President Johnson, and that once Nixon won, he’d cut them a much, much better deal. We’d known about this meddling as early as 1994, but LBJ’s recorded phone conversations with his own advisers and staff confirmed it upon their release, and the level to which Johnson knew Nixon had ruined the peace talks is heartbreaking. In a really strange bit of historical irony, living in a pre-Patriot Act world mean that LBJ simply couldn’t release the evidence he had, because it involved illegal phone tapping of the ambassador’s phone and the FBI intercepting communications from Saigon.
Johnson did wind-up giving Humphrey the information, but Humphrey’s campaign sat on it, convinced they were going to defeat Nixon. That didn’t happen, of course, and then Nixon escalated the war, costing another 22,000 American troops. Nixon negotiated an end to the war five years later. It’s hard to believe that someone willfully interrupting peace talks with a sitting president and two countries at war, one of which we’re fighting alongside, and scuttle them. It’s even more hard to believe that person would not only not be prosecuted for treason, but he’d go on to be the President of the United States of America.
Now flash-forward to 2003, thirty years after the Vietnam War ended, and ten years in the past from today’s date. America was set to invade yet another country by choice. Oh, we were told that there were imminent threats of danger from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which they most assuredly had. Those were lies, and more than four thousand men and women in our armed forces gave their lives. More than three trillion dollars was spent on the war effort, and another sixty billion to rebuild the country, which if you look at pictures out of Iraq today, is laughable at best.
Am I trying to draw a parallel between one corrupt Republican bastard who literally used the lives of 22,000 young American boys as a political football and an administration full of Republicans who used the lives of over 4,000 young boys and girls, scores more Iraqis, and trillions of dollars as a political football? Yes. Yes I am. I’m certainly not suggesting that all Republicans everywhere are war mongers. Nor am I suggesting that Democrats haven’t played these kinds of games; presidents on both sides of the aisle share blame for Vietnam. I suppose I’m just using this chance to mark it down for history, to illustrate that unless we remain vigilant and demand answer and information we’re entitled to, these kinds of things can happen.
We are a country with a bloody and violent past. We were born in violent revolution, and have taken up arms against each other, the natives who lived here before us, and other countries, all throughout nation’s existence. I’m not suggesting that Nixon, Cheney, Rumsfeld or Bush are unique in their ability to sacrifice their morality and dignity in pursuit of political clout and profit. However, there are still lessons to be learned, because in the end Vietnam and Iraq were cut from the same bolt of fabric. Both wars were tragically unnecessary, both wars took criminal levels of deceit perpetrated by our own government to keep us convinced the wars were good ideas.
The light of history is shining on Iraq now, as we look back at a decade of war in that country. But let’s be honest, we’d been meddling in that country far before that, as part of our ill-advised crusade to force
Democracy America’s best interests on the world. We’re a country that took the just and righteous victory we helped secure in World War II and pissed it away over the next seven decades on wars that we had no business fighting. And then the one time we had a reason to go to war — Afghanistan in response to 9/11 — we took our eyes off the ball and went chasing WMDs in Iraq, a damned fool’s idealistic crusade if ever there was one.
Nixon’s betrayal of this country in 1968 and the Bush II’s bloody traipse through the first decade of this new millennium are even more relevant as we look to the future. We cannot continue to spend more than the next 13 countries combined on defense. We cannot continue to set fires all over the globe out of a desire to watch it burn. War is ugly. War is Hell. War is everything that is wrong with humanity, and unfortunately at times in our history there has been no other recourse.
We have to learn though. We have to read and hear these stories of gross abuse of power and influence, and put a stop to them. Perhaps it’s myopic of me, perhaps I should be more cynical about how things work. But I like to boil things down to their most essential elements from time to time to give me perspective. There are roughly 600 Congressmen and women, Senators, Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Supreme Court Justices. Those are the people who go to war, but we are the people who give them to power to do so. And we are the people who have the ability, or more accurately the constitutional duty, to take those powers away from anyone who would use them in such a careless, fickle, cynical, profit or power-driven fashion.
The question is whether we also have the attention span and courage to do so.